Major national publications have been saying kind things about Nate Bargatze for awhile now.
- In 2021, the Atlantic called him “the nicest man in stand-up.”
- In 2022, Variety described him as “preternaturally likable” and a “soft-spoken Everyman.”
- And this week, a New York Times television newsletter referred to his “signature affability” and “good-natured aw-shucks vibe.”
The comedian from Old Hickory, Tennessee, who saw his profile rise from two Netflix specials (“The Tennessee Kid” in 2019 and the Grammy-nominated “The Greatest Average American” in 2021), has a well-established reputation these days — age-appropriate, relatable and unafraid of his own shortcomings.
A natural draw for Utah audiences, right?
It’s another big week for Bargatze, whose first comedy special for Amazon Prime drops Jan. 31 on the streaming service. It’s called “Hello World” and was filmed in Phoenix at the end of his last tour, which included four shows at Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater.
He’s on the road in 2023 performing new material in “The Be Funny Tour” while hosting a weekly podcast called “Nateland.” He’s also directing and producing “clean” comedy specials for three other comics.
In a phone interview, we talked with Bargatze about clean comedy, his reputation for niceness, his popularity in Utah and what to expect from his new special.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity:
Deseret News: Did you make a conscious decision to be clean?
Nate Bargatze: I did. It’s how I grew up. I grew up Southern Christian, and (clean comedy is) all we could watch. It’s just how we were.
I knew I would never be dirty. I’ve always been clean.
It was just always what I was going to do. Definitely when I moved to New York and a lot of comics were dirty, I would do a lot of midnight shows that would be like “uncensored comedy.” Being edgy ... was like this big thing. But I always just knew I was going to do what I was going to do. I could never be dirty in front of my parents. Not that that’s the only thing stopping me. It just was never going to happen.
DN: What do you think is different about your act?
NB: If you talk about yourself and your family, you’re going to be unique in the fact that you’re you. So everybody’s unique. If everything’s about an observation joke, they can be relatable and you’re the one that notices them. But it’s kind of like, if you were in the situation, then people are picturing you going through these observational things. If Starbucks messes my order up, everyone can relate to it because theirs’ gets messed up, too. ... I just tell the story of me going through it, and that’s what makes it unique.”
DN: Do you think The Atlantic’s description of your comedy as “nice” is an accurate description?
NB: Yeah, I hope so. I can do jokes sometimes where I feel like I’m being mean to a person — it’s not like they’re there — but ... I don’t want to come off like pure anger. It’s just being like, “Can you believe this guy? He’s messing everything up.”
I can tell when something feels too mean. I have to do a lot of it with my wife material. I want to be relatable, but I love my wife. There’s a line where you’ve got to learn how to tell that story, or if I tell a story about her, you can tell that there’s love there.
DN: At what point in your career did you realize you’d been discovered by the people in Utah?
NB: You always heard (Jim) Gaffigan and (Brian) Regan could go there ... You heard, “If you’re clean, you do really great in Salt Lake City.” The first time I’d go there, I’d go to the comedy club Wiseguys. Keith (Stubbs) over there, he would book you. Every time I went, it’s like the next time was a little more crowded and then a little more crowded. And then it was slowly kind of going.
I actually now have a lot of close friends that live in Salt Lake City. And I actually end up there a lot. The Eccles was probably where you’re like, “Oh, alright.” We did four shows there. When we did that, you’re like, “Alright, I think I’m finally ...” Because I wanted to. I’d always just heard about it. Hopefully, all these people will learn who you are. And especially with my comedy. You just know that would be a really good audience for me. This last trip to Eccles was a big one. I could definitely feel it. It was definitely building and building.”
DN: Who do you think people should be aware or? Who are the comics out there who are doing good work?
NB: I’m doing three specials ... Mike Vecchione, Greg Warren and Joe Zimmerman. Those are three guys, they come out with me on the road. They’ve been doing comedy for 15-plus years.
Mike is someone who wasn’t necessarily clean. He was always close enough to be clean. I was like, “Look, if you can do a special being clean, I’m willing to get behind it.” Just how great of a comic he is.
You see Dry Bar (Comedy), there’s a lot of great comics who are clean comics. But I have a lot of friends who were in New York, they’re just really amazing comedians. And some were basically clean, but have (some edgy) stuff. And I’m like, “Look, if we can not do this stuff, then I would like to do this special.” When I produce it and do it, if you like my comedy, it’s along those lines. It’s just giving an audience more to choose from. Especially from a comic who has really learned on the road and learned in New York City and has the chops of New York.
When I take these guys on the road — they’re not openers. They’re headliners. But I luckily get to play in some really big places. You can just tell when they’re destroying in front of the audience. You’re like, “Man, they’d be a great fit.” And they’re guys who can all work clean.
DN: It sounds like it’s really important to you to advance this genre of comedy. Why is that important to you?
NB: I just want people to watch comedy. It’s hard to watch stuff with your family. With my shows, when people come out, it’s all ages. It’s grandmothers to 9-year-olds. And it’s not like I’m trying to do comedy for any one group — I don’t want to be just a children’s comic. I just want to do what I do. But I love that it can appeal to this many people.
There’s just not a lot of things that families can go do together. And everybody wants to. I’ll have a dad come out with his teenage daughter. And he’s like, “There’s not much that we agree on for entertainment except when they come to the show.” That just means a lot to me.
I like that a whole family can go. We all went and watched (Jerry) Seinfeld in 2000 — my entire family went and watched that. And it was just like an awesome experience that we all got to have. And I still remember it. And it’s a night where everyone gets to laugh. And I know you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
DN: What’s different about this new special?
NB: You’re always kind of changing as a comic just because of the older you get. I’m very, very happy with this hour. I talk about growing up. I have a little bit in there about growing up Christian. It’s talking about my family. This hour was very fun to tell and I had a lot of fun telling it. People laughed a lot. I enjoyed touring with this hour, so I’m excited to have it on tape. And then we taped it in the round, which I like, in Phoenix, so the whole time I’m on stage you can see the audience. And I like that because it was coming from a pandemic where audiences weren’t together. It was nice to be able to show audiences be together. With all that, it’s a big one for me. And where I’m at in my career, this is the most where I’ve had people come to shows and they know who I am.
And going to Amazon. Amazon is doing kind of a comedy push where they’re going to do a lot more things with stand-up. And to get to go and kind of be the face of that is a giant deal and I’m excited to be at Amazon.
DN: Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever made laugh?
Tiger (Woods) ... I don’t think I got a laugh. I think I was bombarding him too much where he didn’t know to laugh.
Joe Walsh of the Eagles. He saw me perform and then I performed at his 70th birthday party. And you know who else was in the crowd? Tom Hanks was there. So there you go. They laughed and enjoyed the show. So that was a big one. Ringo Starr was there as well, but I did not see him really laugh. So I don’t know. I might have lost on Ringo.